Indonesia equips forest rangers with guns to check illegal logging

BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA (AFP) – Forest rangers in Indonesia’s Aceh province will be equipped with guns in the battle against illegal logging, an environmental agency official said yesterday.

The jungle-clad region at the tip of Sumatra island loses some 32,000 hectares of more than two million hectares of forest annually due to deforestation, including from illegal timber activities, authorities said.

But the risks of fighting criminal elements had soared with many loggers now carrying firearms, said Aceh environmental agency head Syahrial, who goes by one name.

“Being on duty in the forest without firearms is not only risky but it’s also not effective when you’re facing illegal loggers (who are usually armed),” he added.

About 120 rangers would be given pistols, rifles and ammunition at a cost of about IDR1.39 billion (USD93,500), Syahrial said.

“We’ve coordinated with local police with respect to procurement and permits,” he added. Gun ownership is uncommon in Indonesia outside of military or police personnel and obtaining a personal licence can be difficult.

Aceh’s forest rangers once had guns but they were confiscated after a separatist insurgency broke out in the 1970s. The conflict ended with a 2005 peace deal. This week’s decision comes after Aceh earlier announced that poachers who threaten endangered orangutans, tigers and other wildlife could receive up to 100 lashes from a rattan cane.

File photo shows Indonesian forest rangers at Sampoiniet, Aceh. PHOTO: AFP